John Kurrus: Entertaining while educating


By Korrine Lopez, Contributor

Albert Ellis once said, “The art of love… is largely the art of persistence.”

“Have You Seen Mary?” is a children’s book written about the persistence and dedication of one sandhill crane in search of his mate.

“I still needed a mom to be able to pick it up and read it to her kids and it read true. I also needed…for example, a husband to give it to his wife for Valentine’s Day and say, ‘These are the lengths I would go through to find you if I lost you.’ Then it turns into a love story,” said John Kurrus, the book’s author.

Kurrus, 36, lives in Gretna, Neb. with his wife and two children. He said he and his wife moved from Memphis, Tenn., to Nebraska after his wife, who is in the military, was stationed in Bellevue.

After moving to Nebraska he attended the UNO, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in English. Kurrus accepted a teaching job in a small Tennessee town after his wife’s duty was finished in Bellevue.

“I use to teach, but I wasn’t motivated enough,” Kurrus said. “It wasn’t a calling for me like it was other teachers.”

In 2006, a job opened with NEBRASKAland magazine, an outdoor publication. Kurrus applied and got the position, moving his family to Gretna, Neb.

Nearly five years later, Kurrus began the process of writing his children’s book. Kurrus was inspired to write “Have You Seen Mary?” after going on a crane-viewing trip.

Through research, Kurrus found out that cranes mate for life, if possible.

“I asked well, what happens if these two cranes that mate for life and look alike, what happens if they become separated? How do they find each other again?,” Kurrus said. “And so then, you have ‘Have You Seen Mary?'”

Throughout the book, these questions are answered.

Kurrus was inspired to write his children’s book after having read many books to his young daughter, and finding that few taught about nature the way he thought they could.

“I had no interest in writing a children’s book but I did have an interest in trying to tell a story through photos,” Kurrus said. “For me, if an educator, or teacher would have used photographs when I was a student, then I may have been more engaged in what was actually being done.”

Photographs in “Have You Seen Mary?” were taken by Michael Forsberg, Kurrus’ NEBRASKAland colleague. “Have You Seen Mary?” was published in 2012 and has sold between 5,000 to 6,000 copies.

Kurrus said while the book looks as if it’s for a 4-year-old, it’s actually written at the fourth or fifth grade level.

“The thing with these stories is, you’re trying to find something that can entertain as well as educate an audience.”